October 25, 2008
On one bank of the Truc Bach lake a small electricity sub-station is plastered with flyers touting a local plumber. Along the road is an aerobics studio where youngsters lazily sip coffee and browse the papers. Thirty yards out across the water – rancid and bobbing with dead fish – is moored a handful of pedal boats shaped like swans.
It was within this unlikely triangle of landmarks – exactly 41 years ago this Sunday – that John McCain crash-landed and, say his captors, began his run for the United States presidency.
For even if the cold, barely conscious US Navy officer did not know it at the time, says Le Van Lua and the other Vietnamese whose lives entwined with Mr McCain’s that day, this little spot of Hanoi is undoubtedly where pilot turned politician. If fury had prevailed, it is a transformation that might never have happened, says Mr Lua, 61, a factory worker who was the first on the scene after the crash and swam out to retrieve the battered, politically valuable prize.
He mimes clutching Mr McCain’s hair in one hand and a kitchen knife in the other: "I didn’t care about the politics, I just saw a man who had killed so many Vietnamese that I longed to kill him. He was injured badly and at the time I was desperate to finish him off. We only stopped because we were told he was more valuable alive. Now I’m glad I did stop: that day was truly the turning point in his life."
Mr Lua’s account of that day – along with Vietnamese accounts of the five and a half years that Mr McCain spent as a prisoner of war – differ significantly from the presidential candidate’s own record. Mr Lua speaks of quickly getting Mr McCain to the safety of a police station (now the aerobics studio) before any harm was done. Mr McCain writes of mob attacks on his shoulder, ankle and groin with rifle-butt and bayonet.
Where the accounts differ most starkly is in the period of Mr McCain’s long incarceration as a PoW – first at the prison known as the Hanoi Hilton, then at The Plantation.
Tran Trong Duyet, the former prison director who now surrounds himself with caged birds in a house in Hai Phong, first met Mr McCain a year after he had been shot down. He recalls a defiant rule-breaker, the patriotic son of an admiral and a fervent believer in the war. What he does not recall, however, is a victim of torture or violence.
"I never tortured or mistreated the PoWs and nor did my staff," says Mr Duyet in contradiction of Mr McCain’s account and those of other prisoners. "The Americans were dropping bombs on military and civilian targets – so it’s not as if they had important information we needed to extract." Mr Duyet says that he sympathises with Mr McCain and other PoWs for claiming that they were tortured. "It’s up to the Americans to decide whether or not he counts as a hero. He was very brave, very manly, he dared to argue with me and he was very intelligent. But all the talk of being tortured is for the sake of votes."
The McCain campaign refused to comment on the claims yesterday. Mr McCain did eventually sign a confession to his supposed crimes against the Vietnamese people and holds that it was only extracted after weeks of pain inflicted by his tormentors. In a more recent interview Mr McCain explained the signing of the confession as his failure.
Full article here